Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Indie Game: The Movie Review, Interview and Reminder

To start off, you can pick up Indie Game: The Movie through download or streaming in almost all the provided services that allow it online, iTunes through Amazon or the Indie Game site itself starting today. Hard copies can be pre-ordered whit no official release date, but the special edition might be worth it to get with even more story.


Indie Game: The Movie by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot is a painful look into bringing a new game into the world without a major studio, lots of people and financial resources. It might also shadow the directors themselves as their film is independently made and was funded by Kickstarter, but more about that in the interview. You follow the creator of Fez, Phil Fish. The creators of Super Meat Boy, designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes. Lastly, but certainly not least, Jonathan Blow creator of Braid. All of these game have received high praise in the video game industry for being at the standard of professional level games and have been praised by fans. James and Lisanne capture the most turbulent of times for these game developers and show us their lowest points and what sacrifices they made to make their art.

We follow Phil, Edmund, and Tommy as they are trying to get their games out. Jonathan Blow already had Braid premiere on Xbox live to critical acclaim and it was considered the first indie success story on the console. At the start of the film you get to see the budding talents of the other developers as the daring process of getting the game made begins. Phil Fish is overly joyful and ecstatic with his partner. Edmund and Tommy are pumped for their game to get made. Over the course of explaining their back stories you get to know them as you would close friends. The directors and developers explain their games so you can understand what their trying to create. You also learn the stakes they've taken with their lives, if their games don't do well, they'll go bankrupt, their games are their jobs, not simply a hobby on the side.

Then begins a downward spiral. Phil Fish's life get more tragic and painful as the story goes on as does the arduous process of his game, which is continually not finished. He physically looks worse, gets a little fatter and thought mutton chops was good look with no designs for attending steam punk fairs as the film goes on. We learn the team of Edmund and Tommy are riding a lot of pressure to get their game out. Tommy lives at home and Edmund has some sad stories of his past he dwells on and confronts through previous games he has made. Some scenes bring a great sadness to you, being brought in to hear theses people's fear and hopes.

Jonathan Blow would be beyond such sadness with his game already out, but he dwells on his misgivings about his game. After Braid's release he commented on all the big reviews that came out for it. He took the time to go through many reviews and comment his own thoughts and found that even though people liked his game they weren't getting the same ideas he wanted them to get. He actually entered a depressive state for a four months after it's release.

Lisanne and James create windows of time for Phil Fish and the Super Meat Boy team to get fired up and potentially lose everything they have. Jonathan Blow is distant in comparison like his new game in development The Witness, taking place on uninhabited island, which was not apart of the film. A tidal wave is about to hit the shore for Phil and Team Meat. Edmund and Tommy have to get their game ready for Xbox Live or it won't be allowed to come out for months. Phil's former partner split up with him bitterly and needs to sign over the rights for Fez to legally sell the game. This amps up as Team Meat working diligently every day to get the game on time which takes away from their lives and their finances. Phil has a booth at PAX and wants to show off his game, but legally shouldn't, because he doesn't fully own it. He could be sued, so he has to decide if he want to show it at all. On top of that, his former partner is showing off a different game also at PAX. Both of these stories come to a conclusionthat you'll have to see for yourself.

The film just stands out as beautiful, the DVD copy I was given looked like HD and it was shot in HD. Segments are sometimes given more then simple camera work with shots of activities rather then the person talking. Segments like Edmund's drawings, people's reactions to game news online and some great shots of Jonathan Blow being his own video game character. The Phil Fish shot underwater are nice touch to capture the mood.

There's a great scene with Phil looking into his past consoles and computers and it shows of his love of games at an early age. If you've played Fez to the end, you"ll get a little bit more of why it looked the way it did. (You"ll only get this part if you've beaten Fez and seen the ending video)

(spoilers end)
If your a fan of video games or want to know what it's like to try and design a game and the hardships it brings, see this film. It's a story that does have hardships and overall arcs for a doc. By the time it's done you'll be on the island from Lost and all the people you've gotten to know over the film will be there waiting for you.


It was a sunny day in LA, when I called the film makers behind Indie Game: The Movie. They were in the most foreign of land, Canada, our differences were already apparent, would I have to repeat everything in French? I had sent them questions, they had sent back a letter telling me to call them, so I did.

Yet, as the sun shined down upon me and they told of a power line that might have fallen over near them, due to their bad weather, I smiled, looked up into the beautiful blue sky and was happy I didn't live in Canada. Cold and not like LA, where it's year round sun.

James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot were on my cell phone and I complemented them on their masterpiece on video game history. Nothing since King of Kong had captured the nature of video games, how much they mean to some people and how dorky people can be until their film..

James explained how they wouldn't be attending E3 with so much effort and time going into just getting it disrubted online, "...make sure the digital goes well, that there won't be any san-fu's there.", James went.

Delving right in, I asked if there was a softer touch at the start of the film and that it got more grim later on, I meant in that physically people looked less grimey and dirty like a filter was put on the camera or they had cleaned up people's appearances in post, but they thought I meant story wise. Lisanne told how the film starts off with us getting to know the characters and later on there is tension for them to face. She add that almost an hour of the film is with tension.

Fez's Phil Fish, Super Meat Boy's designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes and Braid's Jonathan Blow were picked for the film, I wondered why and how they were chosen. James said, "There stories chose us", and went on how the all just felt right. He went on to explain how it was suppose to be about one person with vignette pieces, but the story grew after meeting more and more developers. It started with Jonathan Blow's Braid then to do justice for Team Meat and Fez they did more with them and to have some finality you go back to Mr. Blow's Braid.

Lisanne added how when they started they met with many developers while answering my question if there were other choices for who would be in the film. This led to her mentioning all the people who supported the film via Kickstarter, which are all listed in the credits like the many game developers they met, which have game footage of their games showcased in between Kictstarter names in the end crdits

Sundance had seen the film and Lisanne said the reception was overwhelming, she said, "Showing it at Sudance showed it had a universal quality to it", so it fits  beyond just gamers and developers. They also told of special showing that already took place at the Alamo Draft House and South by Southwest.

After that I insulted Murgon Spulock's work as getting tiresome, they disagreed. The enjoyed his previous work and that he remains busy. Saying they liked to see his newest film and another I suggested, "The Invention of Dr. Nakamats".

With the look of so much effort put into the film I asked if this project was their full time job. Indeed it was, after James started his own production company 10 years back and Lisanne join 5 years back the duo collaborated on the idea for the film, they didn't know it would be all encompassing and eventually took over ther time beyond commercial work.

 We then discussed the friendship they made while filming the movie: James commented he could listened to Edmund and Tommy Refenes talk never-ending. James listens to their podcast. James commented on how Team Meat and Fez were all very funny to hear in person. Lisanne and James continued to say they felt, in a way proud or felt like they achieved something too when any of these developers was successful out of friendship and getting to know them.

 There was a kinship between them is what Lisanne suggested, the developers with their games and the film makers with their documentary. Both had so much to gain, with so much to lose. James said he looks at the doc himself when he get uneasy about their own distribution of the film and sees how well it can pay off like it did for Tommy and Edmund.

Heads up to all those fans of Phil Fish, there is even more footage then you"ll see in the movie. I suggested the film "Phil Fish Finally Finishes Fez" as a sequel to Indie Game: The Movie. Check the special edition coming out eventually for extra Phil footage. IndieCade is where I got my chance to play Fez early on, sadly James and Lisanne were already in the thick of things as how they put it with editing, but they do wish to check it out eventually.

Tough times were had by all the developers for the film, but luckily none of them got so angry as to kick out the film crew. They let them record every dark moment. What was tough for the filmmakers, but paid off was the editing, both were editors and had to take time to craft a story from I believe three hundred hours of footage. Strangely enough, from what I've heard each stage was harder then the last. Distribution being the hardest right now for the duo. I would have put my money on editing, which can take forever. Yet, distribution seems to be the hardest part of getting Indie Game to fans. "Taxing both emotionally and mentally" James went on about distribution.

Moving forward they don't know where there going, they are perusing some ideas, but were mute as to what they were. They interested in both gaming and going into something random.

Then I dropped the question I've asked so many times, favorite game all time and currently playing.

Currently Playing: The Binding of Issac
Favorite Game All Time: King Quest/ Quest Series
Currently Playing: No Answer
Favorite Game All Time: World of Goo

After that I wished them future success and chilled by my pool and was glad I didn't live in Canada where it snows.

Remember to download or stream the film today or pre-order it on DVD or Blu-ray on their site.